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l huitre et les plaideurs

L’Huître et les Plaideurs, illustration de Calvet-Rogniat (informations.documents.com)

Rabelais’ Perrin Dandin

There have been many Dandins. I remember François Rabelais‘ Perrin Dandin (Pantagruel, Third Book XLI), perhaps an early Dandin. Given the oral tradition, this Perrin Dandin may not be the first.

However, there is a Perrin Dandin in Racine’s Les Plaideurs (1668) and in La Fontaine’s “L’Huître et les Plaideurs” (“The Oyster and the Litigants”). La Fontaine’s “Oyster and the Litigants” was published in his second volume of fables (1678), but may date back to the early 1670s.

Perrin Dandin is a simple citizen in the “Pantagruel” of Rabelais, who seats himself judge-wise on the first stump that offers, and passes off hand a sentence in any matter of litigation; a character who figures similarly in a comedy of Racine’s, and in a fable of La Fontaine’s.

The Nuttall Encyclopædia(en.wikisource.org) (see James Wood [encyclopædist], Wikipedia.)

Jean Racine’s Perrin Dandin

Ironically, Jean Racine‘s Les Plaideurs was first performed in November 1668, at l’Hôtel de Bourgogne, Paris’ most prominent venue. It therefore premiered, in Paris, the same month as Molière’s George Dandin. Molière’s George Dandin is not a judge, but whenener he runs to his in-laws, he brandishes a contract. I have pointed out that in Paris, George Dandin was no longer a comédie-ballet and pastoral. It was a three-act farce in which a peasant lived the consequences of a marriage which, he thought, would elevate him to gentilhommerie. George Dandin’s Gentilhommerie is the Sotenvilles. “Sot” means stupid (and related adjectives).

A sotie is classified as a medieval farce and morality. Some argue, however, that it is a separate genre. Marrying Angélique, whom he had not courted (galanterie), was une sottise (foolish or silly) on the part of George Dandin. Could he not see sot in her parents’ name? They are Monsieur and Madame de Sotenville (from sot), and Madame de Sotenville was born a La Prudoterie, from prude. In Molière’s Le Misanthrope, Arsinoé is the opposite of Célimène. The prude is the opposite of the mondaine. Moreover, names such as Sotenville do not seem real. They seem and may be allegorical.

Whereas the characters in a farce would be distinguished individuals with proper names, the characters in the soties were pure allegories. The characters had names such as “First Fool” and Second Fool”, or Everyman”, Pilgrim” etc. Sometime there would be a leader of the fools, calledMother Fool(Mère Sotte).[1]

(See Sotie, Wikipedia.)
[1] Mère Sotte was the papacy. Soties were banned.

Geroge Dandin par J.M. Moreau (2)

Perrin Dandin, illustration de Moreau le Jeune (théâtre.information.com)

The above Dandin is not Molière’s George Dandin. It is Jean Racine’s Perrin Dandin featured in Les Plaideurs (1668). Racine’s Dandin is a besotted judge who has to judge at all times. While judging dogs, he allows his son Léandre to marry Chicanneau’s daughter Isabelle.

DANDIN : judge,
LÉANDRE : son of Dandin, fils de Dandin.
CHICANNEAU : bourgeois.
ISABELLE : Chicanneau’s daughter, fille de Chicanneau (chinanery).
LA COMTESSE. PETIT JEAN : portier. L’INTIMÉ : secrétaire. LE SOUFFLEUR (prompt).


L’Huître et les Plaideurs

In my opinion, the best-known Dandin is Jean de La Fontaine’s. He is featured in L’Huître et les Plaideurs (The Oyster and the Litigants). Two pèlerins find an oyster. They both claim ownership of the oyster. Perrin Dandin walks by our pèlerins who decide he should judge who is the owner of the oyster. Perrin Dandin eats the oyster and takes our pilgrims’ money.

L’Huître et les Plaideurs

Un jour deux Pèlerins sur le sable rencontrent
Une Huître que le flot y venait d’apporter :
Ils l’avalent des yeux, du doigt ils se la montrent ;
A l’égard de la dent il fallut contester.
(read more)

Pendant tout ce bel incident,
Perrin Dandin arrive : ils le prennent pour juge.
Perrin fort gravement ouvre l’Huître, et la gruge,
Nos deux Messieurs le regardant.
Ce repas fait, il dit d’un ton de Président :
Tenez, la cour vous donne à chacun une écaille
Sans dépens, et qu’en paix chacun chez soi s’en aille.
Mettez ce qu’il en coûte à plaider aujourd’hui ;
Comptez ce qu’il en reste à beaucoup de familles ;
Vous verrez que Perrin tire l’argent à lui,
Et ne laisse aux plaideurs que le sac et les quilles.
Livre 9, fable 9

Jean de La Fontaine.PNG

Jean de La Fontaine par Hyacinthe Rigaud, en 1690 (Wiki2.org)

The Oyster and the Litigants

Two pilgrims on the sand espied
An oyster thrown up by the tide.
In hope, both swallowed ocean’s fruit;
But before the fact there came dispute.
(read more)

Amidst this sweet affair,
Arrived a person very big,
Ycleped Sir Nincom Periwig.
They made him judge, to set the matter square.
Sir Nincom, with a solemn face,
Took up the oyster and the case:
In opening both, the first he swallowed,
And, in due time, his judgment followed.
“Attend: the court awards you each a shell
Cost free; depart in peace, and use them well.”
Foot up the cost of suits at law,
The leavings reckon and awards,
The cash you’ll see Sir Nincom draw,
And leave the parties—purse and cards.
Book 9, Fable 9

Image illustrative de l’article

L’Huître et les Plaideurs (Commons Wikimedia)


I wrote that comedy has redeeming mechanisms, such as the deceiver deceived, or trompeur trompé. In l’École des femmesdespite raising a wife, Agnès, Arnolphe loses her when she meets young Horace. Her instinct leads Agnès to fall in love with Horace and find safety in his presence. Yet, one sympathizes with Arnolphe. He loves Agnès, but he doesn’t know galanterie. The comedy ends in the traditional marriage. But comedy has more than one plot formula. Farces are circular. Dandin will forever plead his cause, but what if he had opened the bolted door when Angélique was desperate, and comforted her. Beauty loves Beast.

But suddenly I remembered the medieval soties, not to mention Reynard the Fox, its comic trial and Bruin losing the skin of his nose when it gets wedged in an opening in a log. But it’s “no skin off my nose,” as it grows back. It’s like a cartoon. Jill Mann,[2] who translated the Ysengrimus, the birthplace of Reynard the Fox, into English, compares this phenomenon to the flattened cat of cartoons who fluffs up again. In the world of cartoons, injuries may be reversible.

George Dandin lived before cartoons, but Molière knew the sotie and the cartoonish Reynard the Fox (Le Roman de Renart).

The Wikipedia entry on sotie compares the genre to carnivals. Mikhail Baktin, who studied Rabelais, identified the carnivalesque in Rabelais, a world upside down. Molière has not broken any rule. The carnivalesque is a constante in literature. However, Molière has a way of humanizing fools and vice versa. The Misanthrope is the epitome in this æsthetics.

I will make these words, my last words on George Dandin who is both right and wrong. But he is less a fool than the Sotenvilles, or is it the reverse?

By the way, se dandiner means to waddle and Dandin is a family name. George Dandin’s name is not allegorical.


Sources and Resources

[1] Mère Sotte was the papacy. Soties were banned.
[2] Jill Mann, “The Satiric Fiction of the Ysengrimus,” in Kenneth Varty (ed.), Reynard the Fox: Social Engagement and Cultural Metamorphoses in the Beast Epic from the Middle Ages to the Present (New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000), p. 11.

Love to everyone 💕

The Carnival of the AnimalsCamille Saint-Saëns

L’Huître et les Plaideurs (Creighton University)

© Micheline Walker
5 June 2019